Dean R. Koontz.
382 pages. $22.95.
On May 15 in Atlanta, shopper Sam Newsome and his daughter should have fallen prey to the drugged-out robber who had just killed the convenience store clerk and two other patrons. Louis Andretti would have died of rattlesnake bites on June 7, the day he decided to crawl under his Corona, Calif., house to fix some plumbing. On June 21, Thaddeus Johnson was spared an involuntary plunge off a Harlem rooftop, while on June 30, San Francisco's Rachel Steinberg escaped becoming a murder statistic. There were more: 14 in all. And each time published reports quoted the potential victim as crediting salvation to an enigmatic, blue-eyed man named Jim.
Although reporter Holly Thorne was surprised by the locatio and frequency of Jim's heroic interventions, she was not surprised to find they had occurred. After all, she had seen him in action, appearing out of nowhere to save a child from being killed by a drunken driver.
Unable to think about much else since, Holly had set out t uncover everything about the man. Her reasons were only partly professional: Reporting had long ago lost most of its appeal. Jim, on the other hand, seemed as appealing as he was impressive.
Jim Ironheart felt he was anything but impressive. Quite to the contrary, he was simply doing what he had to do. He didn't know why he knew the things he knew. He just suddenly, inexplicably knew. About the only explanation that made sense to him was that, for some reason, God was using him as a means to His end. That was just fine with Jim.
What wasn't fine was to have Holly show up at his house an refuse to leave without the truth. As attracted to her as he was, he couldn't allow her to become involved in his life. Yet he soon learns that Holly already is involved, for she too has had her dreams invaded by "The Enemy."
Dean Koontz's strength lies in his ability to ensnare the reader i a plot that's fast-moving, lean and mean. His characters, while usually good enough to get the reader through the necessary plot lulls, are rarely involving enough to carry the load for long. In the novel "Cold Fire," not only are they forced to carry the load far too long, their lack of depth creates limits to the novel's story line.
"Cold Fire" begins with fairly nice pacing but soon begins to drag. This lull is not due to any lack of action, but because Mr. Koontz uses an incredibly long action sequence to forestall the inevitable: Jim and Holly's getting together. Even afterward, Mr. Koontz has the namby-pamby Jim still refusing to allow Holly into his life. That they'll eventually get together is obvious, but it doesn't happen for almost 200 pages, leaving the reader waiting for more than half the book to get down to business.
After a feeling-out period, the novel's "business" starts, an some potentially exciting developments make their presence known. But, in nearly every instance, Mr. Koontz has the too-pragmatic Holly spoiling the fun almost before it starts, turning each into a tease.
Of course Mr. Koontz wraps it up in a neatly explained package, but in this type of novel one has to believe and care about the characters before caring about the plot's resolution. In "Cold Fire," that's a tall order.
I'm sure many will overlook these complaints to find "Cold Fire" quite satisfying. But when compared with what Mr. Koontz is capable of (see "The Bad Place"), "Cold Fire" is as the title implies: not so hot.
Mr. Krolczyk is a writer living in Baltimore.